Freshwater Aquarium Set-up for Newbies: 10 Easy Steps

Freshwater Aquarium Set-up for Newbies: 10 Easy Steps

Setting up an aquarium when you’re new to it seems like a daunting task. There are so many things to consider: aquarium, fish, aquarium plants, aquarium décor, plumbing, lights, filters and so many more.

Where exactly are you supposed to start?

Should you start searching for aquariums for sale? Should you settle for cheap fish tanks or invest in the pricier ones? On that note, is the 5-gallon tank okay? Maybe it’s better to get a 29 gallon aquarium or go all out and buy a 75 gallon aquarium instead. Do you even have space for that? How big is a 75 gallon aquarium anyway?

There are so many questions and so many chances to make a mistake. I know I made a mess of things when I was getting my aquarium together. So here’s a simple guide to help you newbies out there. It won’t cover everything you need to know, but it will increase the chances of you getting things right and ending up with some happy fish.

1. Plan it well, starting with placement

It’s always good to have a plan. And in this case, it’s the single most important step you need to do. Some of the questions you need to answer:

  • Where will you place the aquarium?
  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • Do you want a freshwater or a saltwater tank?
  • What kind of fish do you want to put in the aquarium and can they all live together in harmony?

You can’t just go and get any aquarium you want. You have to make sure you have enough space for it, too. Remember, the tank can also weigh a lot.

Water is about 8 pounds per gallon. So a 10 gallon tank can end up weighing 100 pounds after the water, fish décor and everything else is put in. That’s one thing to seriously think about if you live in a second floor apartment.

There’s also the temperature to worry about. Too near a window may mean more heat for your tank and that means more algae too. Vents will alter the heating and cooling of the tank drastically so near one isn’t good, either.

Finally, you don’t want your tank getting bumped all the time.

2. Consider your budget

Like mentioned above, fishkeeping will cost you. There’s the initial cost to set up the aquarium system. But there are also continuing costs for food, lights, filters and other things.

Before making the commitment, check if it’s something that you can afford in the long run.

3. Decide on a tank

Fresh or saltwater? That is the question. Personally, I would advise going for a freshwater set up if you’re new to this because saltwater is just harder to pull off and maintain.

A few other notes:

  • Cold water tanks – don’t require heaters (saves you money there) but limits the fish that can be placed in it.
  • Tropical tanks – requires heaters but easy to maintain and supports greater fish variety.
  • Brackish water tanks – has high salt levels but not really a marine tank. Heater and high salt requirement adds to expenses.

 4. The fish

You can’t have a real aquarium without the fish, can you? So, decide on the type of fish you want. Here’s a great guide to help you out.

Since you’re new to fishkeeping, find the species that are easiest to care for. And if you plan on having different kinds in there, make sure they can actually get along.

For beginners, the following are good fish kinds to have:

  • Peppered cory catfish.
  • Black skirt tetras.
  • Serape tetras.
  • Betta.
  • Sail-fin molly.

Stay away from guppies, balloon belly mollies, neon tetras and sharks.

5. Buy the aquarium

By now, you should already have a budget in mind so let’s go shopping. Buy the largest tank you can afford and have room for.

Cheap aquariums can be found second-hand in many online ads. But there are also good aquariums for sale that are brand-new and won’t break the bank at Amazon.

Here are a few more tips to help you out:

  • Black or clear silicone? Black is stronger and looks better aesthetically.
  • Glass or acrylic? Acrylic weighs less and is more distortion-free. But glass is easier to care for and better for a beginner.
  • Rectangle, round, or something else? Rectangle still works best. It’s easier to decorate and maintain. Smaller spaces will benefit more from bow front tanks, though.

6. Get a filter

Filters are important to maintain the health of the aquarium inhabitants. Learn about the many different kinds and find one (or two) that will work best for your set up. The Tetra Whisper EX Power Filter from Amazon is a good and economical buy.

7. Bring on the heat

For beginners, it’s generally better if you don’t need to think about heating at all. But if you have a tank and a set up that requires one, try the Tetra Submersible 50-Watt Heater. It’s easy enough for beginners to use.

8. Do you need décor?

By décor, you’re probably thinking bubbles, aren’t you? I like bubbles myself. But they don’t really do anything for the tank, you know? If you have a filter to provide enough water agitation, you won’t really need anything else to add bubbles. But don’t let me stop you.

What you do need is a power head, especially if you chose to get a big tank. Oh, and lights. Your tank should come with a hood and lighting system already. If it doesn’t, just get a standard fluorescent light to start.

Also, specific types of fish need specific kinds of stuff to make them happy (Corys love brown gravel). So when you decorate, keep the fish in mind, too.

9. Let it mature

Aquarium all set up? Okay, then, listen up. DO NOT just dump the fish in. It’s not ready yet. You have to let the nitrogen in the tank to cycle before it’s ready to accept fish. That could take anywhere from 2-6 weeks.

Go ahead and Google how it works.

10. Buy your fish

Finally, it’s time to get the stars of your aquarium show.

The general rule is 1 fish inch per gallon of water.

Don’t go crazy and buy a whole school if the tank can’t sustain them. A few buying tips:

  • Make sure the fish behaves as it should.
  • Look out for injuries and disease.
  • Pick one that’s a good color.
  • Make sure the fish gets along well with other fish.

You also need to get fish food, don’t forget.

And that’s it. You’re all set. Just let the fish acclimatize to the tank.

Note: Don’t drop them right away. Place the unopened bag in the tank and let it float around a few minutes first.

Good luck!

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